When we decided to sell Food !

“Done”, I cheered out loud as a call from Jerry, the event organizer confirmed our participation in the second season of Bangalore Food Fete. Almost immediately, a group was created on Watsapp, friends(now partners) were added and it was christened as ‘Confirmed Foodpreaneurs’. After a lot of discussions since last few months, a bunch of my friends and I decided to participate in the Food fete- Season 2, Bengaluru. Food Fete was an event which called out interested chefs(both home based and professionals) from all around the city to cook and sell food of different cuisines to a crowd of interested foodies. We decided to name our food stall as ‘StartUp’.

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We had our first business meeting at a small cafe wherein we discussed about the total spends and profit expectations. One of our members had already started dreaming about how we would flip this meager attempt of cook-and-sell into a full blown restaurant which would flourish into a success venture, forcing us to quit our IT jobs (quite willingly though) and flourish out into young entrepreneurs.Dream continued into spilling out practiced speeches of our rough journey of how we made through, to eager journalists who would eventually beam and applaud us. Seemed like a perfect ending! But, little did we know that thoughts of a perfect ending were just the beginning of something which was way harder than climbing a mountain.

What does managing an event require?

A) Planning(Oh! We are absolutely near perfect here!)

B)Execution( Err..a little tough down here!)

Well, we did make plans. Cooking, presentation, spends, costume and endless lists filled with seemingly important-for-event jargon. In fact half of our meet ups were spent in plannings but when it came down to execution, we realized, managing an event is not everyone’s cup of tea. Half the things we thought would be managed easily, ditched us, turning out to be an uphill task at the last moment. The real burden of impossibility descended on us, just a day before the event. With great plannings and precision, we had allotted time slots for cooking a sober number of  dishes a day before the event, but with half the time giggling, tasting the dishes and perfecting it more and more, we screwed up our charted timetable of timed cooking and ended up with a lot of stuff still uncooked at the end of the day. Pushing it off to the next day, tired, we went to sleep. This was the first day of our event. Since the alarm decided to ditch us the next morning, we were in for a big rush. The time for all the stalls to be ready on the D-day was 11 AM. We let it slip easily, cooking and cooking more food. Our respective minds and eyes, both awoke at 1 PM when we stuffed the cooked dishes in an auto and left for the venue. I was driving my bike at a snail’s pace, balancing the hot vessel of biryani between both my legs and occasionally turning around to check on my friend who was under pressure of the numerous vessels she was carrying. Cooking and stuffing, sweating under burning hot sun, we decided that was definitely the last time we were participating in such events. Well, there was more to come our way.When we landed at the gate of Food fete at 1:30, we were shown a board with ‘No Entry’ marked bright and bold over it. Distraught and worried, we had to persuade the gatekeeper to let us in faking an emergency crisis that caused us so much delay. With a lot of persuasion, he let us in through a back gate. The sight of competitors, ready with their stalls all decked up and decorated, freaked out, our already well freaked out nervous system. Hurriedly, we set up the stall, cellophane-ed samples of our dishes and laid them out on the table for the customers to see and choose.

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While we were still freaking out, revising the planned strategies of how to start selling, we heard a soft ‘hello’. All of us turned around together to face a man pondering over our cellophane-ed dishes. Before we could exchange pleasantries, he ordered a Dahivada, relished it and left, wishing us the best for our venture. Whoa! Our first customer and 100 bucks in less than the first half an hour of our sales. This cheered us up a lot. We rejoiced, hooted and celebrated like we have been selected as the ‘Entrepreneurs of the year’. Before we could finish up with the hoots, another customer came by ordering plates of chicken Biryani. Lo and behold! The unrealized dream of opening up a restaurant and overrated speeches of success to eager journalists started filling our large brains again. We were pro! But, the first lesson we learnt was

Running a Business is  not a cakewalk.

Reactions and choices of customers are totally unpredictable. For an hour or two, we did not have a single customer. The crowd was thin, probably due to blazing heat. We waited till the evening dawned. Crowd started pouring in but sales were not on a higher side yet. People would come, see. Some would buy a dish or two while some would just peek in and leave. Our dreams of restaurant slowly started fading away before our eyes. Disappointed, we looked at the right side of our stall. It seemed they had a honey trap which attracted more and more customers to it with amazing speed. We observed for sometime and then decided to apply the same strategy to elevate our sales. Two of us stood outside the stall and started hitting up a conversation with anyone who passed by, slowly telling them about our food StartUp, which we had ironically named ‘StartUp’. We convinced them to just come check our menu. Its strange but business rules in India  are not entirely devoid of emotions. By being friendly and talking to people about their interests, we were able to get them to our Stall. Post conversations, sales was not a big deal. Rest of us were inside the stall, acting as servers, thus working in collaboration as a team. We had the right food, the taste and the right price. As we got them to check the menu, most of them often zeroed in on atleast one dish that was sold. By the end of the day, we had a lot of takeaways apart from sales. We came to know about lots of people, stories of some who were inspired by our interest in cooking in spite of being full time techies, some who shared their stories of food adventures and long travels in search of good food, some who dreamed of opening a restaurant, some tips by who already own some pretty popular food junctions, some jokes with people claiming their familiarity on the basis of being from the same state. Some also exchanged cards, praising our food and efforts. That was when I thought that no matter how much efforts we invested in this event, these conversations were totally worth it. Of course the money we made, mattered as well. We polished our plannings in order to make our next day pass by in the most perfect manner. We refactored, rearranged and reflected upon our plans for the next day until it seemed to be perfect and achievable.

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The next day we found ourselves at the same gates of the event at 2PM, half an hour late than the previous day. Phew! All our plans of perfection went for a toss again. Sweating and tired, I again swore I would stay as far as I could from such events. We hurriedly set up the stall and got ready for business. We made better sales in comparison to the previous day though. Same routine followed, more stories poured in, more cards were exchanged,more food and laughter followed. At the end of the day, our neighboring stall owners gathered and exchanged pleasant stories of their experiences. Some had made some profit but most of us were in losses. Nevertheless, no one looked unhappy. After all, Each one of us was taking away something that mattered more than any existing profit.When the clock struck 11 and dreary from all the hard work, we looked back at our stall, it seemed like a huge,messy wardrobe that needed urgent cleaning. We finished our dinner at peace and cleaned up together. So tired were we, that we were not able to feel the ground beneath our feet but as the tents were being untied and dismantled, I looked back at my friends, so tired that they looked like they can break down anytime now but still busy, helping in cleaning and wrapping up stuff. We returned home, crushed and tired to the core. After a midnight shower, when we sat discussing the days and looked back on what we gained, we realized that we had returns that will remain etched as beautiful memories and which certified us as experienced ‘Food Entrepreneurs’ for life to come.

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